“If you have ever asked yourself where your dreams come from when you go to sleep at night, look around you. It’s here that they’re created.”― Brian Selznick, The Invention of Hugo Cabret
Many of us know how difficult it is to pursue an artistic career. It demands not only taste, love or talent, but also strength, persistence and mostly insistence among many other attributes.
I, Selene, personally have all my love focused on cinema/film. In general, all kinds of arts draw my attention – for instance, music and dance. But the seventh art; it’s my passion.
Ever since I was a child, I have very good memories and experiences with cinema and I decided to improve by myself on this beautiful form of expression. I was leader of a cinema club on my school – I always wrote scripts, stories and such – and I was always very curious, asking myself things like: “how is everything behind the cameras?”, “how special effects are done?” or “how are actors instructed?” – and, among many other questions, the most frequent was “how did it all begin?”
Very well, are you also curious or have always asked yourself the same and never researched about it? Then this post is for you.
On this exact moment, we’ll travel to French lands: precisely, to a different century. I hope you’re ready to embark on this voyage with me, Sel.
History of Cinema: About Geórge Méliès, Father of Film Fantasy
Georges Méliès, born in Paris in December 8, 1861, was always enchanted by everything different. His imagination was always too great and that was already shown on his interest and abilities with drawing since he was a child.
That’s why, as a first option, he became an illusionist. Before that, he was forced to work on shoes business that his father was a part of.
Here we can make a stop for an observation: that time, really, even if he wanted to get into the School of Beaux-Arts, it wasn’t possible. If we look closely, that happened a lot not only during that time, but nowadays as well. Many brilliant minds existed and exist, but end up giving up on what they like for something they are forced to do.
But Méliès did something about it.
Once his father exited the shoes industry, he refused to keep on going: he sold his part of the business and became owner of the great theater “Robert Houdin”. But it did not come out of nowhere, Méliès also worked at the same time as a reporter and artist in a satirical newspaper of that time called “La Griffe” – in which his cousin was Chief-Editor.
In 1891, he created the Académie de Prestidigitation, that was transformed in 1893 on the Illusionists Syndicate, in order to legitimize the presence of itinerant magicians to work on the streets – until then considered Romanichels by the police. He was also capable of remaining president for around thirty years.
My person in particular is enchanted by Géorge Méliès works.
His works were ahead of its time and ahead the imagination of many.
MANY say nowadays that the special effects we have are spectacular and something from another world – but we do have a benefit: today we have resources, such as technological advances.
But what about back then?
What did they have besides their pure and transcendent imagination?
That moment was extremely crucial to real development – both of cinema and photography/visual effects. I myself found out about him in a 2012 film “The Invention of Hugo Cabret”, and immediately became obsessed with his works.
A great amount of people don’t know about it, but Géorge Méliès was considered the father of film alongside the Lumière brothers, having his very own title of father of film fantasy.
In my Selene vision – the one who’s writing this post right now – both his history with film and his history with illusionism are incredible and filled with persistence, that REQUIRED so much courage – after all, we’re not talking about the XXI century.
Also, the Lumière brothers, in 1895, invited Méliès to their first cinematographic presentation. We all know that the brothers are the fathers of Cinema.
But Méliès’ mind was clearly something else – a mind that liked to be active and was always impressed by new things, also wanting to challenge itself to be part of everything he was seeing and deeming great. That made him offer to buy the cinématographe from the Lumière brothers, that did not accept the proposal once they had a different opinion on their invention: for them, it was to be used by science, and for Méliès, it would become a completely different world.
I was enchanted from the moment I saw that even when having his offer to buy the cinématographe rejected, Méliès didn’t give up and ended up buying the invention from another person, making it his very first “camera”. Méliès played with lighting and abused of different effects – it was then that he finally decided to invest on his very own talents, selling his theater and using the money to buy his own movie studio: Star Film.
The Star Film already had 34 movies on its list, to which were added 29 more in 1901.
Le Voyage Dans La Lune, 1902
Le Voyage Dans La Lune (A Trip to the Moon), our main and special topic today, is one of the biggest and most recognizable works of Géroge Méliès. Inspired on Jules Verne romance, From the Earth to the Moon – that, I myself, in high school days, read among many other books – and The First Man in The Moon, by H.G Wells, Mélies brings us a magnificent and magic story in which the greatest astronomers decide, during a meeting, to embark on a journey to the moon.
It’s in this very same work that the most famous image from Méliès came to be: the capsule that took astronomers landing on the “Man from the Moon”‘s eye.
This movie breaks all records: in length (260 meters), time of filming (three months) and budget (10.000 francs). The movie is so comercially successful that it was copied many times, specially in the United States by Thomas Edison’s company – yes, exactly what you read, there’s even Thomas Edison on this story, but that’s something for another Lune trip, who knows.
Géorge Méliès’ Descent
What fascinates most is that Méliès, apart from producing more than 500 movies, also had coloured scenes – painted by hand – something that, for that time, it wasn’t normal. His descent with cinema was because of the First World War – in a moment of futy and desperation after the death of his first wife, that left him with two children, he burnt his stock of things that were part of his career.
“Méliès himself, in a moment of anger, burnt his stock in Montreuil”, says Madeleine Malthête-Méliès, his granddaughter, when she was still a child
His movies are either destroyed – mostly melted to extract silver – or sold: recovered in mass and transformed in celluloid to produce shoes heels. There were many losses in his patrimony, but not everything was lost. Years later, it was recovered a complete piece of the film Le Voyage Dans La Lune in 2002. It was restored and presented by the first time in 2003 on Pordenone Silent Film Festival.
Yes, even with his persistence, those were difficult times and people, with war, didn’t see reality the same way. It was a great sadness to a magician and surrealist genius, director and producer, movie actor.
Méliès ended up disconnecting completely from his career when, in 1925, he met Jeanne d’Alcy once again – his favourite movie actress, owner of a toy and candies shop in the corridor of Montparnasse station. They got married and Méliès sat by her side on the counter of the shop.
It was there that Léon Druhot, director from Ciné-Journal, found him in 1929 and took him away from neglect. Sponsored by Louis Lumière, he received the Legion of Honor in October 22, 1931 – that’s right, exactly on the same month Lune Station and I, Sel, decided to talk about his life here!
Château d’Orly, nursing home of Mutuelle du Cinéma, was his last address with his beloved Jeanne d’Alcy.
Géorge Méliès died in 1938, but left an absurd legacy behind.
Bonus: A Few Curiosities!
In order to end this trip through cinema history and the life of Méliès, many interesting curiosities arose while I was researching about him.
The movie was chosen one of the hundred best movies from the XX century on The Village Voice ranking, taking the 84th place – that’s right: from 1902 until today, the movie and its story weren’t left behind – Géorge Méliès lives with his legacy even after so many years.
Apart from that, have you ever heard of the famous list on the book “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die” by Steven Jay Schneider, right? Well, it’s the oldest movie featuring on the list, isn’t that surreal? Imagine how Méliès would feel seeing the amount of international recognition he got after so many highs and lows in his life.
Today, Le Voyage Dans La Lune is on public domain, once its copyrights already expired.
In case you’re curious and never watched “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” by Martin Scorsese, I’ll leave it as a must watch along with a video that contains a brief but important biography of Géorge Méliès.
“The movie maker Géorge Méliès was the first to realize that movies had the power to capture dreams”― Brian Selznick, The Invention of Hugo Cabret
The Invention of Hugo Cabret is by far one of my favourite movies – its colours, its story and everything it carries about Géorge Méliès is incredible, isn’t it?
We from the Sisterhood of the Moon think so too! Tell us what you thought on the comments!
Lune Festa 2020
With this post, our first Lune Festa comes to a close! In case you want to take a look on previous posts, just check the links below: